The Power of the Mighty GIF in Your Emails

The Power of the Mighty GIF in Your Emails

It may not be faster than a speeding bullet, nor can it leap tall buildings in a single bound. But the mighty GIF can give your emails superhero-like strength when it comes to stopping readers in their tracks and making them take notice.

Since the dawn of email, marketers have looked for ways to grab the attention of readers. Over the years, this approach has changed. Now, with more users flocking toward mobile, email marketers are challenged with finding interesting ways to deliver that stopping power, while ensuring the experience can be enjoyed on any screen, from mobile phones to large desktops.

That’s where the mighty GIF comes into play.

What’s so mighty about GIFs, anyway?

GIFs have been around a long time. And while going retro works in fashion and culture (long live vinyl and bellbottoms!), moving backward isn’t really embraced in marketing or technology.

But simplicity has proven to be an asset when it comes to creating content and experiences that adapt to an endless host of programs, email clients, and screen sizes. And because of its old-school origins, GIFs have proven their effectiveness across Web browsers, operating systems, and more. But a hero doesn’t become a superhero just because of simplicity. There needs to be something else that sets that hero apart from the rest.

For GIFs, that special something is interactivity.

Set yourself apart from the rest of the inbox with GIF interactivity

Videos are gaining in popularity with marketers because they encourage interactivity through their animation. But they’re also sizable and expensive to produce, and they don’t play nicely with all email clients and browsers.

GIFs are far easier to produce and don’t overwhelm your reader like a video might. In fact, some of the most effective GIFs are those featuring a subtle animation that pulls the reader in and directs the eye to a specific area in an email.

Take, for example, this email sent by Mr. Porter:

Mr Porter

The subtle movement of the flame adds to the overall effect of the ad: to make us feel comfortable and at home.

Ann Taylor LOFT used a similar, subtle approach to entice readers to unwrap their gift:

loft-unwrap-animation-repeat

Both of these approaches use the power of the mighty GIF in a minimal way, rather than having it consume the entire image. The most effective uses of GIFs tend to be to add a touch of visual appeal to draw the reader’s eye into the email.

But GIFs offer more than just some flair in your emails. They can actually help you tell your story.

Show, don’t tell.  Here’s how GIFs can help.

Another way I’ve seen companies successfully use GIFs is to visually communicate or demonstrate product features. MailChimp did just that in a series of GIFs to help explain their application dashboard:

mailchimp

Showing, rather than just telling, helps to speed the communication process. It’s the equivalent of saying “Let me just show you.” If you’re looking to explain a product’s features to your readers, you’ll be surprised how effective a few GIFs can be.

The downside (and kryptonite) of the mighty GIF

Nothing is a perfect solution for all of your needs. And although GIFs have proven rather versatile, there is a downside:

  • They’re not accepted everywhere (Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013 won’t show the animation, nor will Windows Phone 7). They will show the first frame of the GIF, however. That means whenever you create a GIF, make sure your first frame is strong and tells the story on its own (include a CTA and headline, if possible).
  • You can overdo it with GIFs. Like any other ad form, when you repeat the GIF animation, your readers eventually will become blind to it. Think of a GIF as a visit from your in-laws. Sure, you don’t mind the occasional short visit. But after too many visits, your beloved in-laws sure do wear out their welcome, don’t they?
  • GIFs can be large. Mind you, they aren’t as large as a video, but depending on how many frames you use, they can cut into a subscriber’s plan and might not load properly. There are ways to minimize their size, however, which I’ll discuss now.

How to create a compact GIF for your emails

The preferred way to create GIFs is with Adobe Photoshop, although you can also use Adobe After Effects (and make GIFs out of existing video). A few tips on how to create a compact GIF:

  1. Make sure to crop the image as much as possible.
  2. Animate only a small area of the image (such as the flame in the Mr. Porter ad).
  3. Reduce the colors in your saved .gif file.
  4. Remove as many frames as you can (note, you don’t need as many as you think in order to make a smooth transition or tell a story—look at the Free Beanie ad below to see how American Apparel created animation with just two images.

free beanie

After saving your image as a .gif, using it in your email is as simple and straightforward as using any other file. If you’ve ever uploaded images to your email campaigns before, you’ll use the same approach to upload your newly made GIF.

Try adding a simple GIF to your next email campaign, and measure the response of your readers. Did you get more clicks? More conversions? More dialogue? In your never-ending quest to reach your readers, you may discover that the mighty GIF is the superhero you’ve been looking for all along.

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